At Essen ’14 I played a very cool game from Kuraki Mura B.G. Studio and Swan Panasia. It was all about plumping up some pigs and selling them when they are at their fattest. The theme was kind of cruel when you think about it, but the illustrations were pretty funny and adorable. IELLO republished the game in 2016, so it’s time for a review.
It’s all about happiness in this game. You give your pigs a nice spacious field, you feed them well, give them medicine when they are sick and let them make sweet, sweet love. Happy, happy pigs, until they are fat enough of course, so you can sell them for nice profit. Bacon all around!
The basic concept of the game is simple. Buy for less, sell for more. There are four different actions and every round you secretly choose one. The game takes sixteen rounds, four rounds per season.
After all players selected an action for the round everyone reveals their choice and now every player can execute their action. Easy. However, before the round starts you flip the topmost season card. That card shows how many times all four action can be executed during the round and it shows which bonus players can get at the end or during the round and what they have to do for it.
Not every action can be execute the same amount of times and if two or more players choose the same action this amount must be divided between the players as well.
The four actions are buying, selling, feeding and mating. When you choose the buying action you can buy pigs, vaccines, nutritional supplements, birth amulets and extra fields for your pigs. The pigs you buy, breed or grow (this sounds weird, but every pig token gets bigger when you feed them) must fit on your fields. When you choose the sell action you can sell your pigs to the market. Take into account that the sell and buy price are exactly the same. To get bigger pigs you need to feed them. The smaller two types of pigs can use supplements to get extra big in one turn. The bigger the pig the higher the price. The biggest two types of pigs are sexually mature, so they can mate, which means you get new piglets, or, if you use an amulet, small pigs.
So let’s say the season card says that the feed action can be executed nine times. You want to feed and one other player wants to do that too. Then one player can feed four pigs and the other, closest to the first player, can feed five times.
At the end of the round players can get bonuses, depending on the season card. For instance, the player with the most piglets gets 25 coins at the end of the round.
A season ends after four rounds and that’s where vaccines come in, because at the end of a season all player have to remove unvaccinated pigs from their fields. You can vaccinate during the game or at the end of a season and once a pig is vaccinated, it will stay vaccinated when it grows.
In the end it’s all about the money. The player who has the most money wins.
Happy Pigs is a two to six player game, but I think that you could scrap the two and probably also three player from that spread. The way this game works makes that the more players, the more fun you will have. You should at least have the feeling that whatever action you choose, there is a chance that another player chooses the same action. With the lower player counts, although there’s a dummy player in the two-player game, there too little player interaction, because you can do exactly what you want more often.
Playing with the dummy player, which is controlled by one of the players and rotates when you choose the same action as the other player, isn’t very fun. Plus, you can’t play the tactical variant with the dummy player. You can, but it’s kinda silly.
When you play the tactical variant players choose and reveal their action one at a time in player order. So, you can anticipate on what the other players are going to do. Which is a nice variant, but there’s nothing ting wrong with basic Happy Pigs.
It’s hard to pinpoint why I like this game. It’s not the innovative mechanisms. It’s buying and selling. Nothing new. Maybe it’s the way you upgrade your pigs? OK, upgrading items is not very innovative, but I like the way you have to choose between starting with the smallest pigs and slowly growing them and selling them after several rounds, or start with medium pigs, quickly grow them and sell them soon after they become fat. I also like the round bonuses, it’s another element of the game that you have to keep an eye on. Sometimes the short-term round bonus makes it worth to buy pigs that don’t fit your long-term strategy, because the bonus is too big. Or what if you miss out on that bonus? All the other players will get the money and you don’t. That’s bad.
The game has a funny look, which is another plus. But, I must say that I found the illustrations of the original game funnier and overall better looking, but the new illustrations aren’t bad either.
In the end I think that Happy Pigs combines familiar elements, familiar mechanisms, with a good dose of humour and that makes it a fun game for me.